BRIGHTON — Beth “Banana” DiBella, a junior at Our Lady of Mercy High School, and Erin “St. Eagle” McBride, a senior, seem like nice young ladies. They’re polite, smile a lot and are kind to small children.
However, both girls may be hiding a dark side — they were among the four suspects in a murder mystery that unfolded over the mornings of Feb. 22 and 23 at Mercy. When interrogated beneath the burning lights of a high-school classroom, however, neither girl ‘fessed up to killing anyone.
“Not recently,” Erin said.
“No, I can’t say I have,” Beth added.
Actually, the murder of which they were accused never took place — it was a fictitious happening that was the cornerstone of a science camp attended by 62 Monroe County fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade girls. Designed to teach young women about forensic science, the camp was riding on the crest of popularity of such TV series as “CSI Miami,” Mercy teachers and officials said. The elementary and junior-high girls learned various investigative skills in order to solve a “murder” that took place in a classroom.
“I think it’s good for them to see science at work,” said Heidi Fine, a Mercy chemistry teacher. “In solving a crime, they’re using their analytical skills, too.”
On the first day of the camp, the participants learned how to analyze blood, bone, hair and bugs — because the type of bugs found at a crime scene can help determine how long a body has been dead. The girls also learned how to analyze fingerprints. They then visited a “crime scene,” complete with police tape, to view such evidence as a discarded sweat jacket, a skull, a spoon and some glass. They then were divided into teams of four girls each to work together on solving the crime.
Claire Vollmer and Madeleine Laitz, both fifth-graders at Allen Creek Elementary School in Pittsford, said they were eager to participate in the investigation.
“We’ve always played FBI-type games,” Madeleine said. “It’s just kind of cool to sneak around your house without your parents seeing you.”
“To get to the refrigerator,” Claire added.
Their teammate, Allison Paine, a fifth-grader at St. Joseph’s School in Penfield, said investigating a crime scene was “really cool,” and that she enjoyed learning about bones.
Speaking of skeletons, in Cindy Moroz’s class, girls were learning how to tell the difference between animal and human bones by picking up models and examining them. One girl, however, went off on her own tangent, and began wielding a cow bone like a dumbbell.
“No bench-pressing the bones,” Moroz said, a remark that elicited laughter among the girls.
“They’re energized, and it’s amazing,” Moroz said of the girls.
Maggie McDonnell, a Mercy senior and class president, volunteered to help out with the camp and was also impressed with the girls.
“They’re really a lot smarter than I thought they’d be,” she said.
Good thing, too, since her sister, Mary McDonnell, was one of the surprisingly intelligent youngsters. A fifth-grader at Allen Creek, Mary said she participated in the camp because she liked “trying to find out things.” Maggie Ciaccio, a fifth-grader at St. Louis School in Pittsford, also said she thought she’d enjoy dabbling in forensic science.
“I thought it be fun to gather the clues, to figure out how to solve the crime,” she said.
On the camp’s second day, the girls were all busy doing just that. In Fine’s class, they were comparing blood samples of the suspects to blood found at the scene of the crime. Claire Vollmer noted she was torn between picking the third or fourth suspect, Beth “Banana” DiBella or Claire “Crocodile” Mongeau, a sophomore at Mercy. Claire first suspected Banana but noted that her hair was darker than that found at the crime scene. So Claire then suspected Crocodile. Mary McDonnell added that she found Crocodile’s blood type on a shirt from the scene.
All 62 girls then gathered in a large classroom to find out who committed the murder. Michelle Mauro, a fifth-grader at St. Joseph’s School in Penfield, approached the suspects Banana and St. Eagle.
“It’s not you or you,” she said.
Michelle explained why she no longer suspected them. She said that Claire “Crocodile” Mongeau’s dog had done her in — the dog’s black hair was found at the crime scene.
The Mercy teachers told the girls that all of them were correct — Claire “Crocodile” Mongeau was a cold-blooded killer.
After being “arrested,” Claire was allowed to come back into the room and eat cake while she shrugged off her crime.
“It’s tough going to school — a lot of angst builds up,” she said when asked about her motive. Yes, but why commit murder when you had a week off from school?
“I’m not doing anything over break,” she said. “It was either this, or go bowling, and I’ve been bowling a lot lately.”
Kimberly Patt, a fifth-grader at St. Charles Borromeo School in Greece, said the science camp inspired her.
“I thought it was a really great experience because I don’t really like science, and now I think I’ll like science more,” she said.